In the land of MMUs: Multiarchitecture OS-agnostic virtual memory forensics

Oliveri, Andrea; Balzarotti, Davide
ACM Transactions on Privacy and Security, 30 March 2022

The first step required to perform any analysis of a physical memory image is the reconstruction of the virtual address spaces, which allows translating virtual addresses to their corresponding physical offsets. However, this phase is often overlooked and the challenges related to it are rarely discussed in the literature. Practical tools solve the problem by using a set of custom heuristics tailored on a very small number of well-known operating systems running on few architectures.

In this paper, we look for the first time at all the different ways the virtual to physical translation can be operated in 10 different CPU architectures. In each case, we study the inviolable constraints imposed by the MMU that can be used to build signatures to recover the required data structures from memory without any knowledge about the running operating system. We build a proof-of-concept tool to experiment with the extraction of virtual address spaces showing the challenges of performing an OS-agnostic virtual to physical address translation in real-world scenarios. We conduct experiments on a large set of 26 different OSs and a use case on a real hardware device. Finally, we show a possible usage of our technique to retrieve information about user space processes running on an unknown OS without any knowledge of its internals.

Digital Security
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